Bacos -- mini-tacos made with bao -- at Saucy Porka (Jim Haschmann/For RedEye )
Mini-review: Saucy Porka
400 S. Financial Place 312-662-1351
Rating: 3 (out of four) Off to a good start
Located on an odd little side street in the Financial District, Amy Le's Asian-Latin fusion lunch spot has the feel of a neighborhood restaurant in a part of town populated by sandwich chains in every direction. The former Duck N Roll food truck owner didn't stray far from her roots: Her first restaurant serves cross-cultural comfort food to the lunch masses in the Loop just as her food truck did, garnering a fan base of loyal customers along the way.
The backstory: After leaving the food truck scene "burnt out" and "frustrated by the system and legislation," Le set up shop with former Wagyu Wagon food truck chef Rafael Lopez and co-owner Michael Yousef to create Saucy Porka. The name combines the saucy personalities of all three with the Latin slang term for pork, which Le called "the starlet of the show."
The look: Family photos on the wall, rice fans, porcelain pigs and pork-themed tcotchkes perched around the restaurant make it feel a little bit Chinatown and a little bit Grandma's house. There are a few tables to eat in, and it tends to be busy during the lunch rush.
The bacos: Nope, that's not a typo. Part fluffy, steamed Chinese bun (bao) and part taco, Saucy Porka's "bacos" are almost too cute to eat. Fillings such as soy-ginger tofu with vinegar-dressed cabbage ($2.75) worked well in the pillowy bun, but the short rib baco ($3.50) grew mushy under the weight of the miso-braised meat and juicy pineapple. Le has taken a lesson from her food truck days and constantly polls her customers for feedback, both in the shop and online. On my second trip, the vegetarian baco recipe had been tweaked to include seitan instead of soft tofu, which, when doused in the spicy soy glaze, tasted like a veggie-friendly take on savory Chinese sausage.
Hits and misses: The Asian-Latin fusion worked in some dishes, but not across the board. The curry-dusted sweet potato fries ($5) were deliciously double-fried and crinkle-cut, but the Umami Nachos ($7), drowned under a pile of cheddar sauce, tomatoes, pineapple and braised pork, missed the mark on umami and veered toward sweetness overload. The Saucy Porka banh mi ($8.25) combines flavors of a Vietnamese banh mi and a Cubano sandwich, made from pressed, crackly bread stuffed with pork carnitas and tangy, spicy kimchee in lieu of the traditional pickled daikon radish and carrot. Despite needing two hands to cram this sandwich into my face, it disappeared long before anything else on the table.
The bottom line: Though Saucy Porka is only a few weeks old, it's quickly becoming a popular lunch spot. Based on the friendly service and ambitious menu, it shows promise—a good thing, considering Le is just getting started. Inspired by her mother, also a restaurant owner, she hopes to develop more concepts based on her family's culture and culinary history. "There's a lot of amazing female chefs in the city, but you don't see a lot of female restaurateurs," she said.
Reporters visit restaurants unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyeeatdrink